JHS opens region tournament today against MinotOn January 16, Jamestown was preparing for a West Region matchup with Dickinson at Wilson Arena desperately seeking some way to jumpstart a season that started 2-10.
On January 16, Jamestown was preparing for a West Region matchup with Dickinson at Wilson Arena desperately seeking some way to jumpstart a season that started 2-10.
The Blue Jays were fresh off a 7-3 home loss to Minot and had been outscored 51-32 by their opponents through almost two months of hockey.
But a lot can happen in a month’s time.
Since then, the Blue Jays have gone 4-2 against West Region opponents and have been outscoring their region foes 33-16. But the biggest difference has shown in close contests.
Through 12 games, Jamestown was 0-5 in games decided by one goal or less. In just the last two weeks, the Blue Jays have won two one-goal contests, including one against a Devils Lake team that beat them 8-5 earlier in the year.
“You kind of start shaking your head saying, ‘What do I have to do to win a one-goal game,’” said JHS coach Matt Stockert. “Then we were in a couple of close ones down the stretch and we ended up pulling them out. Hopefully that confidence carries over.”
The Blue Jays have taken on a new identity over the past two weeks — an identity their opening round opponent has yet to see this season.
In fact, it was the loss to that opening round opponent that helped give Jamestown a jolt in the closing weeks of the season.
“We’ve been able to compete with teams all season,” Stockert said. “We’ve lost a lot of close games, but you have to give the kids credit because the effort is there.”
The Blue Jays will open the West Region tournament today against Minot at 1:30 p.m. at the VFW Arena in Bismarck.
“It’s just a matter of doing the right things at the right times,” Stockert said. “When we have opportunities to put the puck in the net we have to do it.”
Minot swept Jamestown earlier in the season, but things have changed for the boys in blue.
The Blue Jays have been averaging 4.3 goals per contest as opposed to 2.7 earlier in the year, including a power play that has generated five goals over the last three games.
“We’ve just been harping on the kids to get the puck to the net,” said Stockert. “It helps when your power play has been pretty good over the past few games.”
The Blue Jays, who have been outscored by the Magicians 10-5 this season, enter as the No. 5 seed after winning two of their final three games.
Jamestown edged Devils Lake and Mandan before losing to Bismarck on the road in the regular-season finale.
The Magicians, however, have lost two of their last three games and were held to one goal or less in both losses.
While Jamestown has found its groove since the two teams’ previous meeting, Minot has been in a bit of a downward spiral, dropping six of its last nine games.
“The conversation all week long is that they have to get themselves ready to go,” Stockert said. “It doesn’t matter how the regular season went, because it’s the playoffs.”
The Magicians are headed by two 30-point scorers in Quinn Fuchs and Mason Morelli and a pair of goalies that are in the top 24 in the state in save percentage.
Junior Jake Luedke carries a save percentage of .893 into today’s contest and freshman Ethan Pardon finished the regular season at .848.
Jamestown has only gotten to see Pardon this season, but Luedke has played four of the last five games, so it’s possible he could be called upon to kick off the tournament against the Blue Jays.
“The message has been that we need to come out ready to go and continue to go for 51 minutes,” Stockert said. “I really believe that if we can do that, our odds are going to be in our favor at the end of the night.”
Jamestown has a pair of capable goalies in Tygh Yatskis and Ben Walz. Both are juniors and both have contributed to the Blue Jays’ late-season surge, so both could see action this weekend. As for today, Stockert said Yatskis will get the nod.
Jake Stilwell has provided a bulk of the offense for Jamestown this season with 23 goals and 33 points — both team leading — but Brady Anderson, Riley Schafer and senior captain Ben Sorenson have played their part, too.
Anderson, who is second on the team with 11 goals, and Schafer, who tops the team with 17 assists, each have 24 points this season and Sorenson, who has nine scores, has 19. Nick Jenson and Alex Williams also have double-digit points this season.
“It’s a team thing right now,” Stockert said. “If I was Minot right now I wouldn’t want to play the Blue Jays (today).”
Jamestown will be around on Friday no matter what today’s outcome is, but a win in the opening round will put the Blue Jays just one win away from making it back-to-back state tournament appearances. And in their attempt to return, they will be opening the region tournament in familiar fashion. Last year, when the ended their 12-year state tournament-less drought, they also opened the West Region tournament as the No. 5 seed.
“That first game is huge, this year more than ever,” said Stockert. “You’re always going to have to play good teams, so not only would winning that first game be huge but it’s good for our confidence, too.”
Sun sports writer David Griswold can be reached at (701) 952-8462 or by e-mail at email@example.com